Your child’s outdoor nursery, valuing work, her field of greens
Home gardens are hot, in our yards, in containers, even vertically. It’s a great hobby that’s affordable, but gardening is also a rich opportunity to share with your kids, instilling patience, self-reliance, the hard lessons of work and rewards. With just a little rich soil, a few seeds or cuttings, and a couple of simple tools, a small plot of land can be transformed into a magical wonderland for the little ones. From tilling the soil, to planting seeds, weeding, chasing off pests and varmints to harvesting, gardening is an amazing and educational experience for you and your little sprouts. “We grow beans, peppers and tomatoes, as well as colorful flowers,” says Louis Taylor, a North Fort Myers parent potting things on the back patio. “It’s fun for the kids.”
Thanks to the growing interest in gardening, more public spaces accessible to kids are opening. There’s the Teaching Garden, located at Cape Coral Hospital, or the Children’s Learning Garden at Lakes Regional Park in Fort Myers, for example. And dozens of schools have small gardens, some dating back decades.
Master gardener Rod Barkley is one of four such experts at Cape Hospital. The purpose of the Teaching Garden, which broke ground in 2014, is to help kids learn about healthy eating and digging the lifestyle, he says. Local schoolkids tour the gardens and plans to introduce gardening in classrooms are being considered, he says. “We initially planted the garden with the help of children and teachers from Caloosa Elementary, Caloosa Middle School, the Cape Child Development Center, and in conjunction with the American Heart Association,” says Barkley.
During the opening event, nine raised beds with things such as peppers, tomatoes, lettuce and assorted herbs were planted, as well as ornamental plants—Mexican heather, climbing aster, gold mound duranta and other non-edibles. Today, perennial edibles such as katuk, bananas, gogi berries and coco plum are also in the garden, as well as the flowering plants, Barkley
A small plot of land can be transformed into a magical wonderland for the little ones.
Cape Hospital’s Teaching Garden helps kids learn about healthy eating and digging the lifestyle.
says. “Our goal is to eventually transform the entire garden into a ‘Food Forest,’ which is a naturally appearing garden that has several layers of productive, food-producing plants which are all grown so that they cooperate with each other and each plant serves several functions,” he adds.
Because it’s mostly sunny and we’re subtropical, Southwest Floridians enjoy year-round growing. And as more of us move here, gardening is only going to increase in popularity. In fact, the National Gardening Association reported in 2014 that 33 percent of households grew food at home or in a community garden. Beans, eggplant, okra, sweet potatoes, watermelon, peppers and peas, each are good choices for planting. The trick in making that garden pop is in keeping kids interested, letting them help pick out what will be planted, to assist in tilling, weeding, watering and harvesting.
Adding whimsy to a garden―pinwheels, personalized garden signs, hand-drawn markers, hand-painted rocks and homemade scarecrows―adds to the fun. Old toys are also helpful in recycling, buckets into planters, old wagons into garden beds, for example.
The Children’s Learning Garden in Fort Myers at Lakes Regional Park, created with the assistance of the Lakes Park Enrichment Foundation, offers four garden rooms―the Alphabet Herb Garden, Pollination Station, The Stummpery (story-time garden) and Light Energy from the Sun―each elevated, making it easier for the little ones to see and watch. Each garden room is themed to herbs or pollinating plants and flowers. Paved pathways help visitors make their way from one station to another.
Gardening with children is great for many reasons, as they learn a sense of responsibility, teamwork, learning where food originates and enjoying the great outdoors, experts tell us.
A side benefit for parents is that gardening shaves a little off the food bill. A healthy garden, according to the National Gardening Association, yields about a half pound of produce per square foot per growing season, saving cash and placing clean, nourishing meals on your child’s plate. And what could be any better?
Herbs (left) generally grow well, can be added to favorite dishes such as pasta. Elevated planting beds (center) make it easier for the littles to reach, and toys (right) make excellent planters. Cape Coral Hospital’s garden project (below) has fruits and vegetables, flowers and other fun stuff that kids dig.